Szwaja's Sports Blog

Monday, September 14, 2009

There's a scene I'm sure you've seen in more movies and TV shows than you can count. The main character in the scene finds himself in a strange place where things are obviously different than anything he's ever experienced. Other characters in the scene stare with confused eyes. Then, inevitably, someone will say to him, "You're not from around here, are you?"

In this scene, that question is warranted because the main character is engaging in some type of activity that is so strange that it makes it blatantly foreign to his current surroundings. Maybe he's hitting on the town bully's girlfriend or maybe he's driving his Maserati through a shady part of town. The function of said scene is to undoubtably convey to the viewer that the main character has some kind of trouble coming his way.

On Sunday night, the scene was Bears/Packers, opening night, Lambeau Field. Jay Cutler served as the main character, and by the time he made his way to the press room for his first post-game comments as a Chicago Bear, the first question asked probably should have been, "You're not from around here, are you?"

Welcome, Mr. Cutler, to Chicago, where you'll find your top four receivers:

-A guy who was drafted as a cornerback (Devin Hester)
-A guy who didn't catch one pass as a rookie (Earl Bennett)
-A guy who had his best seasons in the Arena League (Rashied Davis)
-A rookie who was drafted in the fifth round out of Abilene Christian (Johnny Knox)

Hell, why stop there? Why not break down the other two receivers on the roster?

-A guy who shouldn't have even made the team but did so only because Jerry Angelo decided he was worth a third round pick in the 2009 draft (Juaquin Iglesias)
-A guy who finds himself on his fifth team in his fourth season and was originally a seventh round pick of the Miami Dolphins (Devin Aromashodu)

If you can find a more putrid group of receivers on a team since the AFL/NFL merger, enlighten me. I haven't done the research, but I can't imagine a worse group.

But that's what we've come to expect out of Jerry Angelo, who once took a receiver in the second round who had, count them, 19 catches in his college career. His name was Mark Bradley, and he'll soon be selling insurance in Norman, Oklahoma.

I digress.

Cutler was terrible in his first game as a Bear on Sunday, but only because he hasn't learned how to play in a lackluster offense surrounded by inexperienced, overrated, overwhelmed teammates.

Let me help you out, Jay. Here are some basic rules:

1. When you role out of the pocket, which had just collapsed, because your aging, mediocre offensive line just got worked, you have three options:
1. Throw the ball in the second row of the stands, which Bears quarterbacks of the past had perfected long before you came along.
2. Run for 3-5 yards and slide to safety.
3. Dump the ball to the up-back, far short of the first down marker.

2. On the aforementioned role-outs, do not attempt to throw the ball down field, because your receivers have no idea what to do when the play breaks down. The speed of the game is too much for them to handle, and their improvisation skills have developed about as quickly as their route-running skills have developed (which is not good).

3. You're better off dumping the ball off to Matt Forte four yards down field than rolling out and actually trying to make something big happen. This was Kyle Orton's go-to play in this offense, and you can almost guarantee yourself an at least manageable third down rather than the third and longs that will inevitably present themselves if you decide not to go with this option. And don't forget that Forte has some skills, so he will make these four yard dumps into 12-15 yard gains periodically.

Follow those simple rules, and you'll find that your defense will keep you in most of your games, and you'll actually end up 8-8 or 9-7 and threatening for a playoff spot. But when you pull that stuff you tried on Sunday night, you'll find that the talent around you hasn't been a part a refined offense like you had under Mike Shanahan in Denver.

Cutler will learn to dumb-down his game because he has no other option, not until someone, and it won't be Angelo because he's just not a capable offensive evaluator, revamps the offense and puts some able-bodied talent around him. Instead of fat, aging offensive linemen with chronic injury problems, Cutler will need quick, athletic guys capable of executing the complex zone blocking schemes that dominate today's NFL. And where that someone finds receivers worthy of playing along side Cutler's skill set nobody knows, but it must happen if Bears fans want to see Cutler's full potential on display.

The bottom line is that Cutler needs to keep it simple to be successful, even if it means sacrificing a little bit of the bravado he showcased as a Bronco. Can the Bears win the NFC North that way? Not a chance, bravado is what wins championships, but it might just give the receivers time to actually develop their skills in the mean time. Cutler's only 26. It's not like his window is closing. History will tell us it's just opening.

Angelo's window, on the other hand, is getting smaller and smaller, and without a first round pick in 2010, improving this offense next year will be a challenge.

As Bears fans, we're the characters in the movies who "are from around here." We've become totally accustomed to boring normalcy, and despite a new main character, we're left with no choice but to sit back and expect more of the same.


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